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What we have here with James McNair's Favorites is the master of the single subject's first fat book, his compendium of greatest hits. This big boy is over 600 pages long. For the food archaeologist, it's the Rosetta Stone of American catering and upscale takeout, covering the last 15 years of the century. Press your nose to the glass of any chic deli, fresh pasta shop, or trendy market and you will find displayed some of the contents of this book. McNair's favorites are the comfort food for the end of the millennium.
Blueberry Corn Pancakes? Sunshine Granola? Any cookbook that starts with breakfast starts right. Then, and only then, he's on to appetizers. And this section, like the one on desserts, is indeed long. The message is graze first, then have dessert. Simple, no? McNair moves from Granny's Onion Dip to Chutney Glazed Cheese to Hummus to Seviche, Satay, and Thai Toast. Desserts start with Venetian Glazed Oranges and end with Passion Fruit Cake.
An über-chapter called "Moving On" includes sections on soups, salads, noodles, pasta, polenta, risotto, gnocchi, and pizza. You'll find Sichuan Hot and Sour Soup back to back with Louisiana Gumbo, Caesar Salad back to back with Panzanella, Thai Noodles vs. Spaghetti Carbonara--and a whole delicious world of food in between. The same is true for other chapters: you'll find fish, vegetable, meat, and poultry main dishes from all corners. The only criterion for inclusion is McNair's enthusiasm for a dish, and he has proved the value over the years of his Good Food Radar. There are sections on condiments and relishes, various breads, and all the basics such as stocks and classic sauces.
There is a selection of those famous, well-designed McNair food photos that can set the most unrepentant misanthrope to menu and party planning. But this is not only a book for special occasions. If McNair has one credo, it would seem to be Eat Great Food at Every Meal. And that includes breakfast. --Schuyler Ingle
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